World Hepatitis Day: What You Need to Know

preventing and treating hepatitis in all its formsJuly 28 is World Hepatitis Day, and we’re taking the opportunity to share some information about this often-confused disease. You may wonder: Is hepatitis a concern in first-world countries like ours? Is hepatitis contagious, or is it genetic? Aren’t there several types of hepatitis? Which is which? Read on to find out basic information shared by the World Health Organization.

There are three types of hepatitis:  A, B, and C.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by a virus. It can cause mild to severe illness. Around the world, there are approximately 1.4 million cases of hepatitis A every year. This type of hepatitis is often associated with a lack of safe water and poor sanitation, and can easily become epidemic. In developed countries, there can be outbreaks in high-risk groups, such as injecting-drug users, and men who have sex with men.

There is an effective vaccine for hepatitis A, making this a preventable disease.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is also a liver disease caused by a virus. It can cause both short-term and long-term disease. Globally, more than 780,000 people die each year because of hepatitis B.

This type of hepatitis is not spread through contaminated food and/or water, but is spread through contact with blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person. The virus can survive outside the body for at least 7 days, and can cause infection if it enters the body of someone who has not been vaccinated. It can be spread from mother to child at birth, or by sexual contact and use of contaminated needles. Because of the method of transmission, this virus can be a work hazard for those in the health care industry.

Since there is a safe and effective vaccine available for hepatitis B, it is a preventable disease.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a liver disease as well. Caused by a virus, it creates short-term and long-term infections, varying in severity. Hepatitis C can be a serious, lifelong illness. Worldwide, over 130 million people are infected with chronic hepatitis C, and many of these will develop liver cirrhosis or liver cancer. Each year, more than 350,000 people die from hepatitis C-related disease.

Hepatitis C is a virus passed through the blood, and the most common modes of infection are unsafe injections, improper sterilization in health-care settings, and unscreened blood and blood products via blood transfusion. Though less common, hepatitis C can also be transmitted sexually and from mother to unborn child.

Though there are antiviral medications that can treat hepatitis C, in many cases, access to diagnosis and treatment is low. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, and therefore this disease is not preventable.

Clearly, hepatitis in all its forms is a terrible disease. If you are in a high-risk situation, be sure to speak with your health-care worker about ways you can protect yourself from contracting any form of this dangerous virus. We wish you the best of health!

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